Phoenix Rises (Again) on Global Warming

It is shocking to reread  the coverage of global warming from 10 years ago, and even earlier. So many of the warnings and the science of global warming were already being reported.  

For professional (which means chronically skeptical) journalists, the phoenix  of global warming began to rise again two years ago. There were headlines in 2004 like that on National Geographic's cover story "Global Warning;" U.S. News and World Report's cover article "Preparing for a warmer world;" and USA Today's above-the-fold front-page declaration "The Debate is Over: The Planet IS warming."  

Even Business Week had a cover announcing "Many Companies Now Preparing for Carbon Constrained World."  

Those companies have for some time included big oil and coal corporations, whose products give off much of America's greenhouse gas emissions.  

(The United States, with 5 percent of the world's population, is estimated to generate about 25 percent of the globe's man-made greenhouse emissions.)  

Coal and oil executives have for years been aware of the science behind global warming and its connection to coal and oil.  Various executives have reportedly said privately for years that they were ready for carbon restrictions but could only cut carbon if the cuts became mandatory and were forced on them by the federal government.  

The White House, indeed President Bush, for reasons that are unclear, continues to suggest that the science promulgating global warming as a man-made phenomenon is in considerable doubt.    

Last week the president said to reporters, who did not challenge him, "The globe is warming. The fundamental debate is, is it man-made or natural?"  

It is simply not true that this is a "fundamental debate," as any credible, nonpoliticized and workmanlike examination of the scientific community's discussions and studies will reveal.  

Then why would the president make such a statement?  

Perhaps he misspoke, or was simply condensing his thoughts into an extremely tight package. But it is also true that a great many political analysts have written and spoken about this president's debt and allegiance to the oil companies, for which he worked as a prominent executive, as did Vice President Dick Cheney.

Several books of investigative journalism, including  Ross Gelbspan's "The Heat is On" and "Boiling Point," have reported that oil companies in the 1990s, apparently trying to stave off profit cuts from carbon regulation as long as possible, hired PR firms to promote the notion that there was fundamental and widespread debate among scientists about even such basic questions as whether global warming was happening at all.

  And now The Washington Post, picking up a journalistic line of inquiry already opened by Andrew Revkin in The New York Times and by ABC News, has just published a comprehensive report by staff writer Julie Eilperin titled "Climate Researchers Feeling Heat From the White House."  

It says that "scientists working for the federal government say the Bush administration has made it difficult for them to speak forthrightly to the public about global warming. The result, the researchers say, is a danger that Americans are not getting the full story on how the climate is changing."  

They are now. Or very soon will.  

Your computer screens large and small, cell phone screens, iPods, radios, TV screens, newspapers, magazines and even your local movie theaters will make it inescapable.  

As stories go, this one-of-a-kind phoenix (mythology says there was only one in the world) is of unprecedented scale and complexity.  

But as it rises again for us to consider, with so many other parts of its enormous complexity to challenge us, there is still that one talon pointing at the executive and legislative branches, perhaps curled into a question mark as if to ask,  why has our country and its government been so slow  to confront this unprecedented danger?

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